Friday, December 30, 2016

precious things

I came to comics via Tori Amos fandom, which probably says it all. Sandman was the synthesis of all the things in life I cared about during a certain stretch of being a teenager—reading, listening to the Cure, and sleeping—and I think, had the Internet been more of a thing back then, I would’ve gotten into comics way sooner. I don’t have some big story about what put me off at first. There were two shops in my little town, and the first one, the crummy one, was run by a guy who was really friendly; I remember talking with him about Charles Vess, who was a regular there. But his shop was just these tables full of dusty old boxes that I didn’t really want to touch, much less rummage through. (And for what? Where do you even start in a place like that?) The other shop was staffed by a handful of condescending deviants and the two most sullen boys from my high school, and that place was Classic Comics: big dark room with cardboard boobs everywhere. The vague sense that someone was masturbating in the back.

"The Cipher"
tfw your entire backstory could be printed
on your vagina thong (All images in this post
are from All-Time Comics, coming in 2017.)


Years later, my college boyfriend gave me some graphic novels (the Dark Phoenix Saga, Watchmen, stuff like that) and I liked them. I liked them a lot, actually, Watchmen especially. But at the same time there was something sort of off-putting about that situation that’s hard to articulate—this sense in which they were offered as a project for my betterment. That’s a feeling that has persisted through the years, and so over time I’ve compiled this large, diffuse category of boring things that men have tried to talk me into caring about--Bob Dylan, Woody Allen, jazz music, all of history, sports. Marvel Comics.

At some point I moved to Chicago and started reading Chris Ware. Man, I really loved Jimmy Corrigan. I still do. By then of course there was the blessed Internet, but for whatever reason moving past Ware didn't happen for a while. Eventually I gravitated towards indie for a lot of reasons, one being the toxic culture stuff that I had first sensed in that dimly lit circle-jerk shop of my youth. As it turns out there’s some of that in indie too, but with superhero stuff there’s also this thing where a lot of the talk surrounding those comics in particular is boring to me. I rarely know what anyone is talking about, and nothing I ever hear makes me want to learn more. So much trivia, so many people who seem a little too caught up in the historicity of comics. Knowledge often used in service of scoring points by people with something to prove. That's not everyone, of course, but first impressions are hard to shake.

"The 'Urban' One"
where to start...I like that his alias is pretty much "the 
black one." I like that he's a disgruntled criminal vs the 
white Captain America guy's Mr. Perfect. (V transgressive.) 
Finally I really really like that his origin story is being 
"overwhelmed by pervasive despair of his urban surroundings" 
where everyone's in jail or using heroin. Is one of the All-Time 
Comics villains the Mexican Rapist, because this straight-up 
sounds like Trump to me.


I think that COPRA has changed my mind. I came to it late, in spring 2016, but my timing was good. Just a few weeks after I read Round One this thing by Abhay Khosla came out. That piece talked about the merits of the comic in a way I’d found lacking in a lot of the stuff I’d just read through online, but more than that, it was speaking my language—talking about movies in a way that I used to think about poetry and painting. Around that same time (it might have been the same week, even) I heard some of the story of Bergen Street Comics. Comics being Comics, I think there’s a good chance you knew that place, if you’re reading this. I did not, but I liked hearing about it. There was a way in which that shop—its wares, its philosophy, its look and feel, the whole deal—sounded like the antithesis of that circle-jerk shop in my hometown. I could hear in the story of that place the same democratic type of vibe I perceived in reading COPRA…a form of inclusion that isn’t about Inclusion, with the capital letter, as a promotions tactic or an end in itself, but as an implicit assumption that this is just the way that things should be. I don't need to read a press release about how they're for everyone; I can sense for myself that there's no one masturbating in the back, if you will. Consider the title of this interview that Chris Mautner did with Michel Fiffe, “My Aim Is to Be as Appealing as Possible,” and in a nutshell that describes an attitude I find to be sorely lacking in comics. (In fact it sometimes seems to me that comics tries to be as unappealing as possible.) To be clear, being as appealing as possible isn’t about pitching to the lowest common denominator or crafting an effective elevator pitch. It’s about creating a world—whether it’s on the page or on the Internet or IRL—that different kinds of people want to spend time in. That’s what Fiffe does. That’s what my favorite comics writers do. That’s what comics shops should strive for, and often don’t. Or so I’m told. I don't exactly seek them out.

So anyway these three things—Fiffe’s comic, that Savage Critic essay, the Bergen St milieu—kind of came together like pieces of a puzzle for me to form this expression of superhero fandom that was not repulsive or arrogant or pathological or boring. Here it was actually about sharing the love of a thing. Which is a little sad, because that's what fandom should always be about, right? But that's not a type of fandom that I perceive in comics very often, anyway (even on the indie side). Instead a lot of times fandom is about the ownership of a thing, or the worship of a thing, or mounting a defense for a thing, or explaining a thing. The eminence of some fucking thing. For the first time this whole swath of comics that had just seemed gross to me was suddenly…appealing? I didn’t just want to read that stuff—I felt excited to read that stuff in a way I hadn’t felt excited about reading in a while. Those people showed me what they love about those comics without litigating their importance or perfection, and I could see for myself why they're worth reading. Though of course it’s still hard to know where to start.

"The Perfect One"
Just super impressed by this perfect white man. 
Legit lol @ one of his superpowers being "to absorb 
tremendous trauma." 


Around the same time as all of the above I was watching Jessica Jones, thinking about it in terms of Marvel’s own attempt to be “as appealing as possible”—what that entailed, and why, and who it seemed to be appealing to. All sorts of people liked Jessica Jones, I’m sure, but the many, many takes I was reading at the time were almost exclusively written by men. There’s a certain indignity in sitting down to write about your messed-up feelings about some dumb show to see that Arthur Fucking Chu has deemed it “a huge feminist achievement,” or that Vulture's resident fanboy used the occasion of its saddest sex scene to write about his horny level. (Spoiler alert: horny level = high.) I was keeping this long list of idiotic quotes about Jessica Jones from these men who seemed to me distinctly unqualified to talk about feminism, or maybe anything. I hated the discussion around that show. I hated the show itself. I hated the writing, the acting, just all of it.

In lieu of unpacking all that, I’ll just tell you about a scene in Episode 6 where Luke Cage—upon learning that Jessica was raped, tortured, and forced to murder his wife—says, and I quote, “You let me be inside of you.” You know, referring to the fact that they had fucked. That isn't an appropriate thing to say to anyone you’re fucking, particularly if you just found out that they were raped and forced to murder someone. And yeah, okay, that someone was Luke’s wife, but he knew even as he said "You let me be inside you" that Jessica didn’t really kill her; Kilgrave did. Why that was portrayed as a trauma that Jessica inflicted on Luke, rather than a trauma that had been inflicted on Jessica, is one of many questions I have about that show.

“You let me be inside of you.” Yeah, no, I cannot. But I’ll tell you who can: men, who universally sympathized with Luke in that scene in their reviews. Just as a sampling, let’s take a look at what some of the boys of comics had to say:
“He had a right to be furious, especially because Jessica doesn’t have any defense.” –Oliver Sava, at AV Club
(Oh, I don’t know, maybe Jessica’s defense was that she was raped and forced to murder someone and now she’s all fucked up. Just spitballin’ here, Oliver.)
“Declaring her a piece of shit, with ample justification, he walks off.” –Sean T. Collins, at Decider
(Feels like I should acknowledge that the parts I read of Collins’ take on that show seemed better than a lot of what's out there? But...)

When Zainab asked me to do Critical Chips, I told her I was going to write about Jessica Jones or COPRA, and ended up writing about both. Sometimes you just have to go with your own weird shit. I found it interesting, hating this show that was clearly meant to appeal to me, and being really into this comic that seemed mostly to appeal to people who aren’t like me at all. (I mean, I'm sure plenty of different people read COPRA. But mostly men write about it, and their comics backgrounds are more or less the opposite of my own.) My essay ended up being about a lot of things. Too many things. And the problem with trying to say a lot is that you don’t really have enough time to say any of it especially well, so it was arguably a mistake to spend so much space making a point that the Savage Critic piece had already made quite ably: that for all the things COPRA has to say about fandom, it’s wrongheaded to think of it as a work of glorified fan fiction. But it’s just crazy to me how much emphasis that gets. Because for all its referents and nods to its forebears, COPRA’s most salient feature is that it’s fiercely special.

Ah yes, another article praising Fantagraphics for its irony...
that old chestnut. But seriously I find All-Time Comics writer 
Josh Bayer's assertion that he wants to "diversify superhero
fandom with his vagina thong comic...fascinating?


That piece indirectly discussed another place where a lot of considerations of COPRA go wrong, which is in talking about the story as a weakness or an afterthought. The consensus seems to be that Fiffe is more of a visual artist than a writer, right? The TCJ review of Round One (which epitomizes everything under discussion here) says, “Perhaps it does not matter that the storytelling falters, because there is no real story being told, no point to get across”--a sentiment I've read in a lot of different places. To me the story seems quite consciously postmodern: meta, skeptical, and probing. Postmodern stuff has a tendency to skew cold and technical, which is why the story works so well with the warmth and enthusiasm conveyed by the art. (It's a work of checks and balances in other ways, too, where Fiffe's palpably insane work ethic is tempered by his forward momentum, heavy violence is cut with aesthetic distance, etc.) Fiffe wisely skirts irony, though I think he pokes fun at himself a little. (There’s something about the way in which the details are so super specific, yet don’t matter at all. Also I'd point to the way in which the super recognizable, hyper-masculine tone of the text doesn't drip with derision like the hardboiled cliches of, say, Alan Moore's Rorschach.) Anyway it’s curious to me that so many people who plainly love superhero comics fail to see the story’s cleverness and humor. Maybe that’s even more of a testament to the stereotypes of genre than whatever derision superhero comics still receive from more literary types. Comics in general seems to lag behind every other area of culture in its insistence on harping about "high" and "low," and the inability to let go of these outdated binaries is the reason we have this absurd situation wherein Fantagraphics, an art comics publisher, is about to put out an "ironic" superhero comic that will almost certainly wind up perpetuating the same old shit it purports to rail against. Lord, even Marvel seems to have figured out that vacant ladies with big titties and vagina thongs being "mysterious" around some white hero who's overcome so...very...much is not a storyline that plays to a diverse audience in what will soon be the year of our lord 2017. Literally the last thing I want or need from a comic is for a man to explain to me why vagina thongs are "art." That is not appealing to me--or, I will wager, people like me--at all. Had Fantagraphics thought to include a single woman on the large team of people collaborating to produce All-Time Comics, they might have learned this lesson the easy way. Contrast the high-concept inclusion projects of Fanta (like its Pepe bs and All-Time Comics) and, to a lesser degree, the PR tactics of Drawn & Quarterly with the output of a smaller publisher like 2dCloud, and there is a whole separate essay to be written about the landscape of art comics publishing today.

I guess the thought I’d like to leave you with here at the end of the year is how there’s this way in which a whole is sometimes greater than the sum of its parts. That's such a platitude, but for me it holds true across a lot of things. Especially comics. Especially COPRA. I think about all those reviews that center Suicide Squad, and I don't doubt that decrypting those references would deepen my understanding of Fiffe's series. Reading any artist who's coming to grips with their influences or is remotely interested in interrogating their own preoccupations, that is going to be the case. As an analogy, I mentioned T.S. Eliot's footnotes for The Waste Land in that Critical Chips thing, and it's true that reading those helped me understand that poem. But in another way I found that process limiting and limited—limiting because of the way in which that homework distracts from the poem’s greatness as its own thing. Limited because an explanation can only say so much. That’s a thing people often don’t get about T.S. Eliot, which is partly his own fault; like so many men, he was very fond of explanation. But he also knew its limits. In Eliot’s final footnote on the last words of The Waste Land:

Shantih, shantih, shantih

he explains, in that wry, poignant tone of his, how the line is untranslatable:
Shantih. Repeated as here, a formal ending to an Upanishad. ‘The Peace which passeth understanding’ is a feeble translation of the content of this word.
I think about that a lot, because commenting on art, whether you love it or hate it or something in between, the challenge becomes saying something that transcends "feeble translation." People love to talk about the ~Magic of Comics~ in technical terms, breaking down the anatomy of a page or panel to demonstrate its ability to shoulder so many different meanings at once. Such explanations have their place, but mostly I find them to be the ShamWow! commercials of comics writing. Real magic--that feeling you get reading the stuff that's the best of the best, in comics and in all art--is not a thing you can dissect. That is not to say it's inscrutable. Whichever parts won't fit in the footnotes...those are the ones I really want to talk about.


-----------
This was a companion post to my essay on COPRA and Jessica Jones, which was printed in Critical Chips, a zine of comics criticism put together by Zainab Akthar. That piece has been posted here because there was a production snafu with mine, in print and digital. I’m sure you will be shocked to learn that I’m a fussy nightmare person—not in some evolved way that means I’m organized or anything useful like that, but in a pathological way that makes very small things that no one else will ever notice matter to me. Do me a solid and read it as it was written...unless you’ve read it already, in which case I'll live. Somehow. Some way.

It’s a strange coincidence, but a good one I think, to close out 2016 with three posts that talked about one comic I really like, even if two of them were a dumb link and an anal reprintI wonder if this is a just a website about COPRA now? I should almost certainly write at least 10 more posts on it before I finish that draft about how much I hated Fun Home the musical. Still, the beat goes on, and there's little doubt I'll go back to hating everything in 2017. I'm nearly faint with anticipation for how hard I'm gonna hate All-Time Comics this Spring...unless it's good, which it won't be. Because seriously, that comic looks like shit.

A real fun fact about me that maybe doesn't always come across is that I’m intensely cynical and absurdly emo at the same time. (“The worst of both worlds”--this is the O’Connor promise. I don't think we have a crest or anything but my ancestors carved it into all their potatoes.) As someone who has, for reasons I can neither defend nor explain, taken an interest in some of the more dispiriting facets of comics culture, I rarely do emo these days, but I’ll tell you what: it’s a pleasure to find something nice to say once in a while. I should do it more often. 

Happy holidays? xx
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how we take

In 1953, the artist Robert Rauschenberg convinced Willem de Kooning, one of his personal heroes, to give him a drawing. It was a big ask. De Kooning was one of the most famous artists in the world, and then there were Rauschenberg’s plans for the piece. He wanted to erase it, as in literally remove every mark.

A white page with traces of the original crayon, grease pencil, and ink, “Erased de Kooning Drawing” was a lot of things. Most obviously: a dick move. Blatant provocation. A work that walks the line between a gimmick and a deep thought. Art historians like to call it symbolic patricide, and it’s true that Rauschenberg was unimpressed with the Abstract Expressionist idea that you use paint to vomit up your deepest inner hero. But the thing that makes the piece interesting—the reason it’s an enduring work of art instead of just a footnote in an Urban Outfitters book about Banksy—was that it was more than just a critique. It was also a reverent act.

“There wasn’t any resistance to abstract expressionists,” Rauschenberg said. “I think that only Jasper Johns and myself gave them enough respect not to copy them.”

It’s said that art is borne of passion, but I think that’s only half right. Art is borne of deep ambivalence.

***

To my knowledge, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has the best Rauschenberg collection in the world, around 90 works. “Erased de Kooning,” which looks like a dirty sheet of paper, is requested for exhibition and reproduction not just more than all its cooler-looking brethren, but more than every other piece in the museum. I submit that this is because people never feel more self-satisfied than when they recognize what one thing takes from something else.

It’s a dumb thrill, isn’t it? For me one of life’s purest pleasures is spotting some piece of Chicago in the movies. I clapped like a seal when I recognized a street in that one car chase scene in The Dark Knight. I think a similar sentiment must fuel a certain mode of comics writing, where the author cross-references a comic with the index in his mind palace and a transcript of some message board exchange circa 2003 and thinks he’s had a thought. I like how Abhay Khosla described this phenomenon in an essay about Michel Fiffe’s COPRA for The Savage Critic: “Categorize. Classify. Regiment. Bag. Board. Bleh.” Clapping like a seal is all fine and good when you’re sitting home alone, but if you look at something like COPRA and your first thought is copyright law, there’s plainly something wrong with your life.

Have you ever read an interview with Fiffe? It’s like two men reading names from the Vietnam Memorial to each other, but comics. When writers focus so much on the granular comics history that COPRA so consciously transcends, it’s not just that it’s boring (to me); I think they’re sort of missing the point.

***

In graduate school I spent a lot of time thinking about a poem called The Waste Land. I don’t know, maybe you’ve heard of it. One thing I found interesting was the tension between the poem’s reputation as inscrutable and the many rows of books in the library that were written by people who wished to explain it. Often scholars focus on the way that T.S. Eliot referenced other literary works. Like an asshole, Eliot himself published footnotes with later editions of the poem that explained his every allusion to Dante, Shakespeare, etc. It was an ambivalent gesture—sort of a joke but also not a joke—that Eliot himself would later observe generated “the wrong kind of interest.”

Some 65 years later, Michael Palmer, an earnest poet with a great deal of chest hair, published a poem called Sun. Inspired by “Erased de Kooning Drawing,” Palmer conceived of it as an erasure of Eliot’s poem. Walking the line between parody and tribute, Sun critiqued the notion of what Palmer called the “perfectly enclosed” poem—the idea that The Waste Land, or any poem, can be dissected and explained. “I felt it as a typing over the text,” he said. “At the same time, it was obviously an echo and homage…. It enacts a kind of ambivalence. Certainly my own ambivalence toward the culture of modernism and toward those figures that, to some degree, we arise out of.” Sun had the same number of lines as The Waste Land and many of the same literary references, plus allusions to “low” sources. The title and the image that opens the poem, a headless man, were taken from a supermarket tabloid.

Palmer never published any footnotes, but he discussed all of this, at length, in interviews.

As someone who finds the idea of decoding a work of art to be off-putting, I enjoyed the many levels of irony at work there: the ways in which Sun undermines, yet inadvertently upholds, some dim idea of literary seriousness; how it foregrounds, and at the same time destabilizes, poetic conventions; how it appropriates images and emotional textures from the best-known poem of the 20th century even as it concedes that doing so is sort of bullshit. Most of all I liked the idea that there’s some critical space where you can attend to a work that’s not just a take—that criticism is capable, perhaps, of transcending whatever it’s about.

Sun is a beautiful poem, truly. I like the passage at the end where the decapitated tabloid man finds his head.

Tie something to something else
Hold your head

as a lantern
a light for this impossible season


***

Robert Rauschenberg didn’t believe in the sanctity of the self, which he conceptualized as incoherent and always in flux, or of art, which could be anything. “Painting relates to both art and life,” he said. “Neither can be made. (I try to act in that gap between the two.)”

I think that’s also where a critic works. What you’re reading now isn’t a piece of criticism about COPRA, but if it were I’d try to render my own experience of that liminal space: the nostalgia that COPRA’s fanciful character design makes me feel, not as a comics reader, but as someone who spent a lot of time paging through boys’ sketchbooks as a teen; COPRA as an education in comics craft and some of the people who practiced it; the COPRA trades as beautiful objects I can hold in my hands, a cool thing I admire a pal for his role in; my love for the excellent hand-lettered fonts of COPRA, and the regretful lack thereof in indie comics; my appreciation for Fiffe’s desire to entertain; and finally, of particular interest to me, COPRA as a work that seems more interested in opening up possibilities (for stories, for style, for meaning, for audience) than pinning them down.

But this is, after all, an essay about taking, and what it means to do so well or badly. Thank Christ.

***

You don’t have to be aware of COPRA’s relationship to Suicide Squad to recognize it a comic that engages—and estranges—certain markers of medium and genre. It’s a comic about comics, not just in the world of the story, but also as an object in the world; COPRA exists in a sort of conversation with the exploited creators it honors in the way that it’s made (by an auteur) and sold (by him, on Etsy). Storywise part of its thing is engaging and estranging the way that violence has been depicted and understood and enjoyed in comics.

Curiously, while COPRA is an incredibly violent comic, its violence isn’t really sexual or sexualized. The comics project that’s lauded for interrogating the way that’s been depicted and understood and enjoyed is TV’s Jessica Jones.

Feminist noir, with a (more) rapey Time Lord! Listen closely, and you can hear an Internet’s worth of cultural critics seal-clapping themselves into the sea.

In Episode 6, Jessica’s pal Malcolm tries to convince her to go to a support group.

JESSICA:         Look, I’m not going to talk about my shitty story, Malcolm, because there’s always  someone who’s had it worse. Someone’s life who was ruined worse.

MALCOLM:      It’s not a competition.

Which: of course it’s a competition. On television (as in corporate comics), it always has been. That’s why Jessica Jones is about a girl named (1) Hope who (2) is held captive and raped repeatedly, (3) forced to murder her parents before (4) going to jail for her rapist’s crime and (5) finding out she’s pregnant with his baby. Of course she (6) aborts it and (7) mortally stabs herself in the throat. As one does, with such a heavy hand.

I’m interested in people’s shitty, but not quite shitty enough, stories. I think a lot of people struggle with that bar. In the absence of your own grisly murder, does your own shitty story even register next to the ones that we all know (and love)? What if no one’s even murdered in your vicinity?

Jessica Jones may not cater to the male gaze or whatever it is that people like about it, but it’s intensely sensational. You can gender-flip your gumshoe, throw in some lesbians kissing and call it Marvel’s feminist triumph, but what I see there is the same old shit.  

There was a time in television history when the victimization of women was used in the service of exploring male characters, a phenomenon we know in comics as “women in refrigerators.” At some point television writers (more so than their counterparts in comics) pivoted so that sex crimes deepened women’s own characterizations (like Dr. Melfi on The Sopranos). Most recently, “feminist” investigations of sex crimes themselves became the subjects of entire shows (Veronica Mars, The Fall, Top of the Lake). This is progress, or so I’m told.

Feminist or not, procedurals from Law & Order: SVU to Jessica Jones are built around the central task of making sense of an act of sexual violence and bringing the perpetrator to justice—a premise I find patently absurd.

The only show I know that really gets that is Twin Peaks.

***

Superhero stories, as I understand them, are revenge fantasies that mythologize the experiences of victims and losers and underdogs. Peter Parker got bitten by a radioactive spider. Superman survived the death of his planet. Mutants are oppressed by humans. Those comics are allegories about emotional struggles—loneliness, grief, feeling ugly, whatever. They may be thinly disguised, but they’re rarely literal. Superheroes’ problems are generally way cooler.

In a world where one in five women have been raped and almost half have been sexually assaulted, Jessica Jones, a rape story about rape, doesn’t mythologize anything. Instead it sensationalizes abuse and caricaturizes abusers, potentially estranging victims from lived experience. I guess Jessica has super strength? Is that the allegory—that even strong ladies get raped and feel bad? Probably you thought it was just weaklings and crybabies but now you get it. Marvel Television received a Peabody Award for this important social message. The showrunner took home a Hugo for crafting such a nuanced fantasy.
  
In the stories it tells, and the stories it chooses not to tell, COPRA questions the most basic assumptions on which superheroes’ fictional worlds (and, by extension, ours) are built. Must violence, revenge, and betrayal have meaning or make sense? Is identity really forged in the crucible of conflict? Do our backstories make us who we are any more than whatever’s happening now? Is justice real? Is evil absolute? Should fiction have an easy or coherent message? And it asks these questions in a way that doesn’t preach, or scold, or lose sight of what I believe to be an urgent, deeply misunderstood truth: that entertainment is the highest form of art.

If you really want to interrogate how we tell stories about sexual violence, those are the levers. And—this is critical—you have to explore the trappings of genre with more than just cleverness and derision. Veronica Mars on noir, Twin Peaks on soaps, Misfits on sci-fi and superheroes—those shows were interesting even when they went off the rails because they had warm human feelings about the genre tropes they played with, even in subverting them. Jessica Jones isn’t homage; it’s a joyless genre exercise. The noir elements feel flat. The superhero stuff is an afterthought. But most of all? It’s no fun whatsoever. It’s just a message.

Theodor Adorno had a phrase I’ve always liked: rattle the cage of meaning.

Someone needs to rattle the cage.

***

People talk about “Erased de Kooning Drawing” as a work that’s about the past. But Rauschenberg was an artist with a particular interest in forward movement.

The work bears the marks of a struggle that remains, to some degree, unresolved.

You can’t erase the past, girl, I can hear him say. You can only try to tell it better.











----------
This essay originally appeared in Critical Chips, a zine of comics criticism, and has been republished here due to a snafu in production. You can buy Critical Chips for around $5 usd.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

comics links!

I'd like to thank art comics for being as ridiculous as possible lately so I have this outlet for all my weird holiday/US dystopia shit. Let's do some links...

1. Fantagraphics launches COPRA for Dummies
Holy hell, can you even believe it? Gary Groth is doing superheroes?!?


Well, yeah, actually, I totally believe that, because COPRA has been literally the best thing going for years and Gary Groth is nothing if not the Ghost of Christmas Past, except 1000% more white and sexist.

I'd like to share with you my fantasy: Gary Groth is on the phone in the Fantagraphics basement, gripping a big old-fashioned handset. It is made of red plastic, and it is not connected to a phone line, nor even the base of a phone. NO MATTER: This is the conference call that will decide which white dudes will be on the Fanta All Time Comics team.
GARY: Listen, fella. Gotta put the Fantagraphics stamp on this. Who's our biggest piece of shit satire guy? 
GARY (in a different pair of sunglasses): Well, we already got the clown who does the rap comics. But listen, we gotta get Johnny, Gar.  
GARY: Who? Keep in mind this guy should be somewhat shitty at drawing.  
GARY (in a third pair of sunglasses): I'm telling you Johnny Ryan's our guy. 
GARY: Does he hate women tho? The idea is that this should be as status quo as possible, yet "punk"
GARY: No one knows, Gar Bear. Johnny's our finest Post-Dumb. 
GARY: Perfect. Hey, is Comics Sufjan available? This thing is going to need some sort of credibility.
~fin~

(NB: Noah VS...wat? why?)

Look...COPRA is a comic that borrows, so I'm not going to go in on All Time Comics too hard for being a ripoff. Ripping off COPRA is fair, and anyway this project has been in the works for a while, so who knows what happened when. Also? I actually want it to be good. (I mean...it won't be good. But if it is, I'll be the first to admit it. I'm certainly going to read it with interest.) I think the cover has some good stuff going on, though I will note that even the color palette strongly echoes COPRA #1.

 

Bottom line, I'm willing to extend the benefit of the doubt. I will say this: I read an interview with All Time Comics creator/head writer Josh Bayer over at CBR, and I felt pretty confused reading all that without ever once seeing the words "Michel Fiffe."

Me being me, you can just about guess how much I laughed about the one-dimensional the Fanta*stic lady superhero, Bullwhip, who appears on the cover in one of those S&M leotards from American Apparel, is. Says Bayer:
Bullwhip is really interesting because she’s like Cher or Madonna. She doesn’t have a backstory or a secret identity, she just is Bullwhip. This lack of history actually makes her more exciting to write about because her personality as Bullwhip just seems to glow brighter, knowing she’s not concealing one personality behind another.
FYI, Bullwhip's nemesis is called "The Misogynist."
GARY (urgently, to GARY): The Misogynist is calling from inside the house. 
2. God bless Colin Spacetwinks for explaining the direct market to me
I'm really very fond of twitter user Colin Spacetwinks, the author of what may well be my second favorite tweet of all time:


Until yesterday, it probably would've been my favorite tweet of all time, but then this happened:


I should quit twitter now, and maybe the internet altogether, because i will never see anything funnier than Kurt Eichenwald bragging about his large sons. My god, one of them does kung fu. It's definitely all downhill from here.

Anyway, Colin's epic explainer was quite helpful to me personally, as a comics ignoramus. I've always assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that all Big Comics fans carry this level of knowledge in their hearts, so I'm not 100% sure who the intended audience is here. That said: this is good. I fell asleep in the middle where the numbers got real granular, but at least 75% of comics people love that type of shit, right?

I was born to love a novella-length rant titled "The Problem with Comics," but also I learned some stuff. I recommend it.

3. J.A. Micheline on bias
Based on the totally unscientific sample of the few times a day I scroll through Twitter, I've been surprised to see (polite) pushback on this piece on bias by J.A. Micheline. 100% cosigned, J.A. Micheline. IMO "bias" in comics is usually gendered or racist or both. Mostly a useless construct.

There is no such thing as objective criticism. People who act like they're neutral scientists of comics? Those are the ones you have to watch.

4. Roman Muradov Alert
NEW ROMAN MURADOV!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Roman Muradov is too good and pure for this nightmare world, so there's no way in hell he's going to tell you that his new book is out early on Amazon dot com. Luckily ya girl is a dirtbag whose copy is scheduled to arrive on Sunday--fucking Sunday, because I'm not going to read this comic unless it's delivered by an orphan piloting an Uber drone that drops this book in my actual bed.

If I were a better person I'd pre-order it from Uncivilized, though. Uncivilized is great.

Monday, December 5, 2016

mostly comics links, such as they are

1. Art comix elite respond to world crisis: "Yes, let's curate another 'uncensored' trash blog"
Whenever the world is in trouble, it's good to know we can count on the pioneers of art comics to cobble together another half-assed trash blog to "fight censorship." This particular trash blog--Resist!which will also be printed as a newspaper--is brought to you by a Comics Family unrivaled in its sheer quantity of trash opinions over the last year or so: the Mouly-Spiegelmans.

 If you like this, you'll LOVE artist Jim Agpalza's portfolio of terrible genitalia art.

Yes, mother-daughter team Fran├žoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman evidently read a University of Phoenix-grade women's studies syllabus somewhere and now they have some opinions on which they hope to incite a revolution...by not paying mostly female cartoonists to draw bad political cartoons for their shitty tumblr? Cool. Good luck with that, ladies. I see that Roz Chast has already contributed a totally uninteresting drawing of Trump rendered on a scrap piece of computer paper. V. exciting. No doubt art comix fans everywhere are praying that Art Spiegelman will draw a trash cover for the New Yorker and complete this circle. Then with all the money he makes off it Mouly can continue not funding like a million more trash blogs to fight the power. Vive la resistance.


Let me be perfectly clear: the Resist! tumblr is trash (mostly just straight-up bad more than offensive, but whatever), the artwork in that particular post is trash, Francoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman's joint response to the people who called it trash is TRASH, their fake fucking "feminism" as expressed therein is trash, and anyone who is promoting this blog is trash by association. Mouly and Spiegelman's egregious misunderstanding of their curatorial function as editors in this trash world has absolutely nothing to do with "censorship." Best we get these terms straight here on the brink of what's to come.

Pull yourselves together, Spiegelmans. I continue to believe you're smart people, but this is getting ridiculous.

2. Political spew: special comics edition
With full knowledge that this tidbit is destined to be misconstrued as "lol, this liberal wants a white power Pepe": I've been thinking a lot about satire lately, particularly the parallels between the anti-PC conversations we've seen in alt comix over the last few years and the alt-right's "ironic" Heil Hitlers, etc.

Did you read that insane profile of Steve Bannon last week? It's bananas--possibly the craziest thing I've ever read in my entire life, even now that everything's crazy. Here's the part I keep thinking about:

Like...it's bad enough that Bannon believes in the genetic superiority of white people (I already knew that, though) and that only white property owners should vote (knew that too, more or less), but since when does that constitute an "irreverent streak"??

Irreverent streak. Irreverent. Streak. Mr. Bannon and Mr. Brietbart share "a common irreverent streak." An irreverent streak that consists of an unhinged belief in white supremacy and the notion that only property owners should vote--aka "populism" in the parlance of our times, now that words have no meaning.

Predictably (because I've been blathering on about this stupid thing, which is my personal Zapruder film, for more than two years now...I'm basically a half-step away from joining the Jesus guy with the megaphone outside of Old Navy to better preach my message about how Gary Groth came to earth to be a fucking asshole) I was reminded of Fantagraphics' folksy press release on Fukitor. Here is your weekly reminder of how that cutesy press release, which is titled "FU, Buddy!" reads in part:
What about work that doesn't quite fit into our standard business model? Work by relatively unknown cartoonists that's innovative, quirky, idiosyncratic, oddball, experimental, or downright crazy, work by established cartoonists that's simply off-kilter or too obscure to sustain a mass market release?
Why, you might even call Jason Karnes irreverent. I mean, what else would you call a guy who draws a bunch of ritualized gang rape and crazed Muslims being murdered? Or for that matter, the guy who publishes it?

Reality and especially language right now are slipping on a broad scale, and they're slipping in a way that they slipped in comics quite a long time ago. That's not unique to comics, exactly; you'll also see a similar sort of resonance in discussions about comedy, about pop culture, and from what I have come to think of as the Fake Left (people like deBoer and Chait who pin the ills of society on political correctness). But the alt-right's particular take on irony--eg, Richard Spencer saying that "Heil trump" was just a goof...well, that's some Groth-grade "satire" right there. At some point along the way, irony became plausible deniability. That's been happening for a while across the political spectrum--and it's now being exploited with real skill by these opportunistic shitlords.

In related news, I've been compiling my favorite descriptions of Bannon in a special file (Bannon burns.doc). It is literally the only good thing to have come out of this election. My favorites so far are "Robert Redford dredged from a river" and "sozzled nazi werewolf." Please submit your favorite Bannon burn in the comments. Originals are also welcome. This is all I have. Thank you.

3. Pepe the frog update: I was so right about that
So long as I'm complaining about Fantagraphics, I just want to take a quick moment to revel in how deeply right I was about that whole Pepe the Frog thing. (Claim victories in this life where you can.) I recently noticed a very good comment on an old post here that I missed till now due to what I will euphemistically call my email situation, which basically consists of me randomly choosing about half my emails to not read or respond to for a really long time, if ever. Email is my new voicemail, basically. My inbox is irreverent af.

Philippe Leblanc wrote:
In addition to your comment about Matt Furie and Pepe, I came across this interview on CBC’s As it happens between Carol Off and Matt Furie. I think one of the most surprising thing was how he was framing the Anti-Defamation League as his oppressor, not the alt-right. It was weird to hear him say that he feels he’s much more a victim of the ADL than the alt-right reappropriation of his cartoons. “They put on their lists and now I’m associated to racist cartoons” seems like a weird take on the situation.
http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2695634079  
Thank you so much, Phillipe. I found this clip extremely affirming. Reader, if you're into me being right about something even a fraction as much as I am, I recommend you listen to that clip, which validates everything I had ever thought or felt about Matt Furie and his stupid piss frog. Sometimes when I have an opinion that's different from everyone else's I worry I'm just being uncharitable or something, but no--I was just super right about that. Oh hey btw Fanta, how's that #takebackpepe campaign going, anyway? jk, I don't have to look that up to know I predicted that right.

I'm sorry I'm so disgruntled now. It's hard for me too. :(

4. Your girl had a long talk with Nick Hanover about the comics writing landscape.
Speaking of disgruntled! Have you always wanted to read thousands and thousands of words about why I think fanboys did 9/11? Great news, all your dreams are coming true. Inspired by an Epic Bummer Post by Abhay Khosla, Nick wanted to do a back-and-forth about some of the stuff that we find frustrating in comics reading and writing and shit-talking. Spoiler alert: it's absolutely everything. Click on over to Loser City. ----->

5. 2dCloud Kickstarter
2dCloud is very good and their seasonal Kickstarter is also good. It's good to have good things. Let's not fuck this up.

From Perfect Hair by Tommi Parish

6. Not Even Comics
For your consideration, in preparation for a movie post I hope to get around to writing soon:



The movie this is from is still playing in some cities, I think? For whatever reason it was here for just one night but maybe other places are showing it in a more normal convenient way? My parting advice to you is catch it if you can.